Offices & Resources

Twelve from SM at White Privilege Conference
Twelve from SM at White Privilege Conference

From April 4-7, ten St. Mark's students and two faculty members traveled to Grand Rapids, MI, for the 19th annual White Privilege Conference (WPC).

White Privilege Conference (WPC) examines challenging concepts of privilege and oppression and offers solutions and team building strategies to work toward a more equitable world. It is designed to examine issues of privilege beyond skin color. WPC is open to everyone and invites diverse perspectives to provide a comprehensive look at issues of privilege: the ways everyone experiences some form of privilege including race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc. and how all are affected by that privilege. The conference is unique in its ability to bring together high school and college students, teachers, university faculty and higher education professionals, nonprofit staff, activists, social workers and counselors, healthcare workers, and members of the spiritual community and corporate arena. Annually, more than 1,500 attend from over 35 states, Australia, Bermuda, Canada, and Germany, all from diverse perspectives, addressing issues of diversity, cultural competency, and multiculturalism. Committed to a philosophy of "understanding, respecting and connecting," the theme of the 2018 WPC was "Super People & Superpowers: Prepare to be The Future of Social Justice Work."

The keynote speakers at the conference represented a wide range of educators and other professionals, including social entrepreneur and feminist activist Mira Krishnan; Bettina L. Love, an award-winning author and Associate Professor of Educational Theory & Practice at the University of Georgia; David Stovall, Associate Professor, African American Studies and Education Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago; diversity speaker and trainer Rosetta Lee; and author and activist Eli Clare, who speaks, teaches, and facilitates all over the United States and Canada at conferences, community events, and colleges about disability, queer and trans identities, and social justice. There were also more than sixty presenters facilitating a wide range of workshops.

"I enjoyed going to the breakout sessions that explored different issues of privilege, including sessions that explored different ways to help facilitate communication between people that privilege exists and how ideas of implicit bias can be dismantled," said SM faculty member Chris Roche. "One really great thing also was caucus groups that allowed the participants to express emotions as privilege has both emotional and intellectual aspects."

While at the conference, St. Mark's students also participated in the Youth Action Project (YAP). Established in 1998, YAP is a youth-driven project that allows young adults to identify and address issues that matter to young people. The program focuses on youth development, academic enhancement, and economic and community development. YAP engage students in activities that help them to attain the skills and habits needed for leadership roles in their future, including group dynamics, public speaking, critical thinking, workshop facilitation, volunteerism, citizenship, and writing. The aim is for participating students to be able to demonstrate leadership skills, and the ability to effectively engage their respective communities.

A highlight of this year's WPC was a speech by St. Marker Grace Darko '19. She began with a song—"A Change is Gonna Come"—then segued into a very personal, powerful, and passionate address centered in her own experiences dealing with prejudice, privilege, and isolation. "How do you replant a family tree where the fruits were exploited?" she asked the audience. She ended her presentation by reciting her own original poem, "Black Soldiers." The large crowd gave Grace a standing ovation.

"Attending the White Privilege Conference was an exhilarating, exhausting, and rewarding experience," said SM School Counselor Veronica Barila. "Our days were action packed with keynote speakers, interactive workshops, and fierce conversations about race, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexism, and sexual orientation. I loved being there with students as it opened my eyes to their perspective and filled me with hope and excitement about educating the next generation of social activists. St. Mark's students were brave, resilient, and threw themselves into the work. It was amazing to watch students take risks and allow themselves to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable as we shared personal stories, uncovered biases, and explored the impact of privilege and power in our daily lives."

St. Mark's participation in the 2018 White Privilege Conference was sponsored by the School's Community & Equity program.